Michael Walsh is the editor of Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism site. He is also a notable writer in his own right. This week sees the publication of his new book Early Warning. I thought the book would be of interest to many Power Line readers and invited Michael to write something for us about it. He has graciously responded with the following column:
My new thriller, Early Warning, is out this week from Pinnacle Books and available as well on Kindle. It’s the second installment in what will be a series of five paperback originals limning the adventures of a man known only by his code name: “Devlin.” (And yes, the reference to Notorious is intentional.)
First introduced in last year’s Hostile Intent, Devlin is the most secret operative of the Central Security Service – an almost-unknown division of the National Security Agency, the nation’s chief electronic intelligence agency. Originally established during the Nixon Administration as the “fourth branch” of the armed services, the CSS is today the liaison among the armed services intelligence agencies and the NSA itself. Among other things.
Devlin, however, is no ordinary spy. Raised by the head of the NSA after the death of his parents in the Rome airport massacre by Palestinian terrorists in 1985 – a man whom he suspects of having had an affair with his mother and thus a role in her death – Devlin has become a heartless killer, but not one without a soul. Trained in all the marital arts, in armaments, in tradecraft and, most of all in cryptology, he is the perfect lethal weapon in the fight against America’s enemies.
And yet he wants out, longs for a better life. At the end of Hostile Intent, Devlin thinks he might have found that life, in the form of the lovely Maryam from Shiraz, an Iranian rebel operating in the west who seems to be his soul mate, and brings her into Branch 4 – the ultra-secret unit within the CSS whose fundamental code is exposure equals death. But, as Early Warning opens, he realizes that there is no escape, no exit, from the hell into which he has been born – and to which he has been eternally condemned.
As is only fitting for a man who works for the National Security Agency, Devlin himself is a cipher, his “real” identity having been expunged after the deaths of his parents. Operationally, he uses a series of constantly changing aliases, and can have no face-to-face contact with any members of the ad hoc teams he recruits from private military corporations to assist him. Under the strict op-sec rules of Branch 4, an operative whose identity is revealed is a dead man, subject to termination with extreme prejudice by any other member of the CSS; not even Maryam knows his real name. Devlin exists in a world of terrible solitude, which he repays in kind by being brutally efficient and merciless in his work. His one hope for happiness is Maryam.
As in Hostile Intent, Devlin’s principal opponent is the shadowy, reclusive international financier, Emanuel Skorzeny, a German-born billionaire who harbors an enormous animus against western civilization, in part occasioned by his own morally complex past. Skorzeny despises the west for what he views as its terminal cultural weakness, and believes that society is no longer worthy of the great cultural treasures earlier generations of have bequeathed it. Although he has dedicated his life to making money, riches are not an end in themselves, but a means to a larger end: the euthanization of the west.
Like Devlin, Skorzeny is an orphan, who saw his parents die in front of him; like Devlin, he is deeply alienated from a society he believes has wronged him. In Hostile Intent, the pair came face-to-face only once, at the end, in Skorzeny’s private quarters in, of all places, the maximum-security French prison that is built on the ruins of the old Abbey of Clairvaux. In that struggle, he managed to overcome a seriously wounded Devlin and escape down a bolt-hole. The cat-and-mouse game between these two deadly and equally matched adversaries continues in Early Warning, and will find resolution in next year’s sequel, October Surprise.
My goal in the series – besides giving the reader what I hope is a rip-snorting good read – is to illustrate and dramatize the kinds of nightmare scenarios that currently keep our intelligence agencies up all night. In Hostile Intent it was the seizure of a southern Illinois middle school by terrorists, and a planned EMP attack on the east coast. In Early Warning, it’s an all-out Bombay-style assault on Times Square that follows the temporary blinding of the NYPD’s Counter-Terrorism Unit’s surveillance computers – a horrific sequence I had finished writing well before the Times Square bomber made his attempt at life imitating art.
But my even larger goal is to make readers aware just how brave the men and women are whom we put on the front lines of a shadow war that dare not even speak its name, and the enormous personal sacrifices – including the ultimate sacrifice – that they must make in order to defend us. At the end of Early Warning, caught up in the political machinations of President Jeb Tyler and a pawn in the battle between the NYPD and the FBI, Devlin wonders whether it’s even worth the trouble. If the Great Game really is just a game, then why bother?
Luckily, good soldier that he is, he’ll be back for more. He may be a flawed hero, but right now flawed heroes are all we have – and we ought to be grateful for them.
Oh yeah – and I think I solved Sir Edward Elgar’s famous “Dorabella” cipher, too.